(Edited version published in the Times of India Pune West Side Plus on 09 Mar 2007)
A sudden uproar in our normally quiet neigbourhood one cold December evening had me running to the balcony. In the fading light I saw the driver of a long, big mean looking car fling something on the edge of the road. The master continued to rave at him in between barking orders into his mobile phone. Another minion hurriedly deposited the master’s laptop, lunch box and other paraphernalia in the car hoping to avoid the verbal onslaught.
That done, the master barely allowed the driver to wash his hands and the vehicle zoomed off horn blaring leaving behind a trail of cigarette smoke and dust. The toddlers in the building seemed dazed and one was even crying. I ventured down to investigate and to my horror found that what the driver had callously flung were actually two very dead, barely a week old, stray pups. Obviously the driver had run over them as he hurried to pick up his master and together the two had decided to clean up by simply depositing them on the roadside. The kids had been playing with the pups in the evening and had seen them being run over.
Suddenly the pups’ mother turned up from nowhere and began investigating why her babies seemed so still. Sensing something amiss she looked around for lurking danger and someone to take a revengeful bite into. I hastily retreated to a safe haven namely my balcony to keep track of things from there. Soon many stray dogs gathered around as if in sympathy and the mother kept nudging the young ones hoping they would move. Naturally nothing worked and soon she was alone.
I watched in amazement as the dog actually lay down beside the pups and stayed there throughout the night. Occasionally she would break out into long cries of grief. It was pretty cold yet she stood guard over her young ones even as vehicles zoomed close by or some sadistic persons set off crackers or other animals tried to get close.
None of us did anything about the pups, not even the pet dog owners who walked their dogs, to dirty the road. I slept restlessly that night plagued by several unpalatable thoughts. I woke up early to see the mother carrying off her dead pups one by one, long before the sweepers came along. The animal kingdom looked after their own!
The big car and its villainous occupants came at office opening hours the next day and walked past with scarcely a glace at what they had done the night before. Newspapers almost mandatorily carry daily news of hit and run cases, some fatal while the lucky ones get away with injuries. We see signs of economic prosperity everywhere; the kabadiwallah has a mobile phone, students drive expensive bikes, a hundred rupee movie ticket is almost a norm, even the beggar boy at traffic signals asks for a packet of chips instead of ‘chaar ana’!
An ugly green horned devil repeatedly asked me the question all through that night, are we losing our social responsibilities that go hand in hand with economic prosperity? I looked around to see garbage piled in unauthorized places, people proudly breaking traffic rules, senior citizens given no priority in queues or public transport, neighbours behaving more like strangers, people vandalizing public property… The list seemed to go on and I had just scratched the tip of the mud pile. And all this in a ‘cultured’, ‘affluent’ neighbourhood in Pune! The pups incident was insignificant compared to Nithari or other terrorist outrages. Yet it confirms our sinking values and decency.
I grieved with the mother dog for the loss of humane qualities in humans. I finally gave up trying to find excuses for our shortcomings and shamefully admitted that there was only one answer to my question. ! Yes! Yet I am convinced if each one of us tries to make a small change in our own sphere of influence instead of going in for armchair activism we would be moving towards a better tomorrow.